A few days ago, Kate Tempest released a second track of her forthcoming album “The Book of Traps and Lessons”.
The album was mentored by none other than Rick Rubin, the legendary producer and spiritual guide to the likes of Beastie Boys, Kanye West, Jay-Z and Slayer. I say “mentored”, not produced because when Kate Tempest talked about the album and its recording process, she mentioned Rubin never touched any equipment. He just listens and tells you what he thinks. And one of the first things he said to her was: “You should make an album without beats.” Mental. But also: genius. That album is “The Book of Traps and Lesson” and if all of it is as good as the earlier “Firesmoke” and the current release “Holy Elixir”, it will be nothing short of a revelation. I don’t actually know how much of Kate Tempest’s beautiful recent poetry collection “Running Upon the Wires” has influenced this album, but it sure sounds like it did. For context: the earlier work of Kate Tempest has never been about directly conveying personal emotions or anecdotes. She has been similar in that respect to Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who explicitly shied away from confessional poetry throughout his life. But while life seeped in through the cracks of Hughes’ work only behind closed doors, in a secret body of work that was released in 1998, the year of his death, as “Birthday Letters”, the latest collection by Kate Tempest already allows the poet to be openly personal, vulnerable and simultaneously ambitious, as she tries to capture and convey all kinds of emotions, including love and -gasp!- flat-out happiness. While “Firesmoke”, lyrically, could have been lifted from “Running Upon The Wires” as an ode to her lover, “Holy Elixir” seems to turn a new page (sorry, obvious metaphor, move on), confidently building on various kinds of self-earned strength. In these lyrics, personal experience and the bravery of not keeping hope and happiness to yourself are not kept separate from the broad vision, cultural depth and call to arms that suffused the poet’s earlier words. This is the work of someone who has seen the way everything connects.
And I know I’m going against Internet policy that dictates: “post stuff when it comes out, not a few days later”. But I don’t care. It just seems wrong to me that no-one who posted this (so far) has transcribed the lyrics. So I’m doing it now, as accurately as I could. Please read them below. They are worth the most valuable thing you have: your attention.
I touched the beginning.
Animating animals and tree gods
scratching out legends in cave walls.
The days poured down into nights as we watched.
We mapped stars and peaks.
We fought beasts.
We caught food for the feast
and we walked to a breast to receive the bound wheat,
the grass, black and strange.
As we raised plains to ash we laid claims
and made pacts
and we clashed
and we strained
and the rains lashed.
The young maids were brave
but they were made
to lay flat.
The old ways were too ingrained
to make the reigns
We laid traps.
We gave our names back to the saints.
We sang out thanks and complaints.
We burned fat.
Arranged bones in the flames.
Each bird a great catch.
Our songs were spells
and our spells were plain fact.
She laid down in the road
where the people go by
and declared herself herself willing to try.
I laid down beside her.
But all I could see were the feet,
as they walked over me.
That’s when she told me: I was Holy Elixir.
She said: “I thought I knew the world but it was only a picture.”
She saw it all written in the holiest scripture,
it’s just we’re living in this time that says: “No inhibitions. Get Yours. Keep going the distance.
No limits. And don’t bother protesting because nobody listens.
Besides: all your solutions dissolve under scrutiny
and you can’t stand a note of derision, instead seek approval to justify your existence.
Have opinions but have no resolve or conviction,
just keep your head down, breathe the fumes and indulge your addictions.
Routine is healthy. Ignore the affliction,
the cost to the soul and the constant constriction.
Don’t consider too closely. Have no intermission.
Keep throwing your fists in slow repetition.
Most of us manage, what makes you so different?
Now you seem a bright spark. Go ahead, take the road with the pilgrims.
Head for the temples of democracy, freedom, growth, reason, liberty, hope.
But don’t pay attention to what’s hanging from the rope.”
She said: “Decode the language.
Unfold the symbols.
got lost in the hillside.
Following intellect they let go of wisdom
and now they’ll tell you the soul is a closed system.
They sacrificed instinct to phony ambition.
And now what they hold in their fist has become all that there is,
but total existence needs meaning and myth.
Many misjudged the way and got lost in the mist.
Your loneliness is the symptom
not the sickness.”
The moment her lips said: “Peace”
I became a memory.
I felt myself
I was atoms, magnesium, calcium.
I was real.
She said: “We are born of collision.
We are divisions of a bigger vision
we run around like hamsters.
Spinning the wheel.
Spinning the wheel.
Spinning the wheel.
I was on my knees then,
begging for pardon.
I was old and clothed in white garments
in a vast, red desert, where the rocks were dark blue and varnished.
And a voice said: “This is the garden.
Now you better start sowing. Or there won’t be a harvest.”
I came to
under a domed roof.
The lights were cold and clear and fragmented.
There were people, moving. I watched them.
I saw a muscle of schoolgirls performing.
I saw the ticket woman massaging the small of her back.
And a young gent,
neat as a crease in his work clothes.
And a light,
light as breath on the dirty old track.